Northern Virginia schools started last Tuesday. There is a really stupid law in Virginia that prohibits them opening before Labor Day. For some reason, the Virginia legislature believes it’s better for children to be in school for most of June where they can reap the benefits of the distraction of the hot, humid Virginia summer with, perhaps, a few more days tacked on for extra snow and (this year) flood closures. It also means that by the time school begins in September, everyone is SO ready to hear the purr of school buses down the lane. (No kid in Fairfax WALKS to school. We are too good for that. We discourage such behavior by our lack of sidewalks -- we like to pretend to be rural -- and 100% bussing.)
The start of school is a big deal in my neighborhood. The elementary school crowd and their parents meet at the corner at ten minutes to nine. I don’t have kids in elementary school, but I go out there every year to enjoy the view.
This year we covered the corner. There must have been 25 or 30 children in their new clothes and well-scrubbed faces. The sixth graders were looking blase and sophisticated, talking quietly with a cool veneer that will break down by the first full week when they’ll be running and screaming with all the other kids. First to fifth graders were simultaneously anxious and nonchalant, looking forward to the new year, to meeting the new teacher but reluctant to have their summer freedom -- such as it is in Type A NoVa -- curtailed.
But it’s the kindergartners I turn up to see. They are dressed in adorable clothes of their parents’ choosing, looking like a page from a picture book. Voluminous (if only in contrast to the size of the five-year-olds), deflated back-packs loop their shoulders. They stand close to their parents, holding their hands, looking out at the other children's chaos with both apprehension and longing. My favorite moment, folks, is after the bus stops and the long line climbs aboard amidst parental kisses and admonitions. As it pulls away, the kindergartners are sitting in the windows waving, waving, waving to beat the band. They are so proud. They are so big. They Go To School!
The bus pulls away, and -- ours being a conventional neighborhood -- the dads get in their cars and go to work. Then the Mom celebration begins as the women gather at someone’s house for muffins, bagels coffee and mimosas. Hey, we love our kids and all, but, thank goodness, they Go To School!